There are a lot of points to address, so I'll try to be concise.
Questions: I don't follow the requests for merging threads closely, but I've long been curious. Are all or most requests for merging topics granted? Or is the step of merging topics the exception not the rule? Is there internal mod debate about each merging, or is it a situation of "first mod up makes the call"?
1) No, not all requests are granted. I have no figures, but I'd say 60-70% are. The crucial caveat is that we don't get that many
2) The number of requested threads merged is certainly outnumbered by the number of threads moderators merge of their own volition without a request from a member.
3) With reference to responding to requests, now @EnolaGaia
has gone, it's usually me making the call and performing the task.
4) I confer with other moderators in our virtual lounge if I am unsure, but in about 80% of cases I decide alone.
5) The vast majority of requests for merges come from half a dozen long-standing members. The thread itself will indicate who, but @ramonmercado
contribute a lot, and having both acted as moderators previously, their instincts are usually correct.
6) The single most common reason for not approving a request—and @Stuneville has stressed this to us—is that superficially similar thread titles needn't indicate a similar discussion. We are happy to sustain distinct discussions of a single subject, provided those threads are sufficiently distinct in 'approach'; which is to say, the instinct is not
to throw all threads that mention, say, haunted castles together. A former moderator who will remain nameless had a fetish for this. @EnolaGaia
spent days disentangling some of them.
These decisions are certainly subjective, but the general criterion is to ask whether a) we are looking at sufficiently separate cases of one phenomenon (are there significant divisions of time, location, subject or experience?), and b) whether the method of analysis, heuristic or actual physical tools being employed to consider an 'old case' are sufficiently novel. At the practical end, we do tend to merge anyway if a thread is novel but garnered few contributions and is very short.
7) The most common case of 'maintaining distinction' is the IHTM (It Happened To Me) Section. Very, very few of these threads have been merged.
- They are distinct reports.
- They invite feedback and responses to and from the original posters.
- Doing this encourages new posters by giving them 'their own' thread and not prejudicially treating the peculiarities of their own experience as essentially variations on a theme.
- Owing to the increased interaction, the best of these threads take on a very distinct character of their own, a character that risks being diluted when mixed with other more jejune exchanges.
Crucially, although we can cut and paste and merge and separate like a whizzed-up Frankenstein, we are powerless to change the order of
posts; whatever we do, the posts will appear in strictly chronological order.
If two threads that are active at the same time are merged, posts 121, 122 and 123 in Thread A may now appear between posts 76 and 77 on Thread B. If posters have not been fastidious about quoting the post they are responding to (which doesn't appear necessary when it's clearly 'the post above'), then the new thread can be very hard to follow once new posts interpose. It's possible to check for this before merging with quite short threads, but long threads are impossible. For this reason, it is undesirable to merge two very large threads.
Hope this sheds some light.